Friday, December 31, 2004

Foreign investment capital reported

Vietnam attracted over $4 billion in foreign investment capital in 2004, an increase of 35% over 2003 and the highest in seven years, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI).

Of that amount, $2.9 billion was disbursed, $300 million over last year. Major investment projects include the Dutch-invested Hoya Vietnam project ($145 million), which will produce glass layers for digital discs; Canon Vietnam (100m US dollars), Nghi Son cement plant (248m US dollars), Hai Phong cement plant (161.7m), Sun Steel plant (147m US dollars) and Saigon Mas (100m US dollars). Industrial and construction projects made up 75 per cent of the total increased capital. (Voice of Vietnam Dec. 26, BBC Monitoring Dec. 27).

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Foreign policy achievements noted

Vietnam hosting the fifth Asia-Europe Summit Meeting (ASEM 5) in Hanoi was the most notable diplomatic event of 2004, said FM spokesman Le Dzung at a press conference last Thursday. Also noteworthy, he said, were the official visits to Germany, Cuba, Belgium and the European Commission by Party Chief Nong Duc Manh; to Bangladesh, Pakistan, Russia, Hungary, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Chile and Argentina by President Tran Duc Luong; and to Malaysia, China, Mongolia, Morocco, Algeria, South Africa and Singapore by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

Dzung noted various agreements signed between Vietnam and other countries along with improved relations, particularly China, also the United States. Between January and October, he said, Vietnam signed 97 international treaties, including 83 bilateral agreement and five multilateral treaties. (Laborer Dec 24 p2, VOV Dec 23, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 27).

Improved US-Vietnam relations noted

Bilateral trade between the U.S. and Vietnam increased to nearly $6 billion this year, according to Thanh Nien newspaper, up from $1.4 billion in 2001. Important bilateral developments noted by the paper in 2004 included the formation of the US-Vietnam Congressional Caucus, the launching of direct commercial air services between HCM City and San Francisco, the docking of a US warship at Danang port, many official visits to Vietnam from Texas and Washington state officals, and a US pledge to back Vietnam’s bid to join the World Trade Organization. (Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 24, Dec. 23).

New security law tightens liberties

An excerpt from Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Dec. 22:

Vietnam is set to introduce a new public security law that will grant Vietnam's prime minister and security services extensive powers in cases deemed to affect national security, government officials said Wednesday. Under the new law, the prime minister is allowed to take measures including; putting surveillance on people and vehicles, banning any meeting or gathering of people, and controlling the use of telecommunications, according to a senior official from the legal department of the presidential office, who requested anonymity. "It will come into effect as of July 1, 2005," said Pham Thanh Ha, deputy head of the administrative division of the presidential office. Military and police agencies dealing with national security are allowed to intercept any mail that may contain "harmful" documents, and security services are also authorized to suspend telecommunications in Vietnam, Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper reported.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

United Airlines lands in HCM City

United Airlines flight 869 arrived in HCM City from San Francisco (with a stopover in Hong Kong), the first direct flight from the U.S. in 30 years. The Boeing 707 jet was packed with 300 passengers, many of them Vietnamese Americans, also some local officials from San Francisco, actor David Hasseloff, who brought with him wheelchairs for disabled children, and about a dozen reporters who joined the flight in Hong Kong. Officials from San Francisco International Airport and United Airlines said they hope to expand air traffic with Vietnam. (San Francisco Chronicle Dec. 12).

National Assembly delegation visits U.S.

A delegation of Vietnam's National Assembly External Relations committee has been touring the U.S. from Nov. 30-Dec. 19, led by its vice chairperson Ton Nu Thi Ninh. In a Dec. 9 press conference, Ms. Ninh defended Vietnam's human rights record, as well as its denial of a visa to Democratic Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who has been outspoken in protesting the suppression of dissidents in Vietnam. Ms. Ninh claimed the U.S. lacks objective and true information on Vietnam. She said Ms. Sanchez is "an exceptional case" because her visit "will not serve the promotion of bilateral relations. It will only comply with the requests of some voters who have voiced support for her." (Voice of Vietnam, Dec. 12)

PM Khai speaks on Army's role in society

Prime Minister Pham Van Khai spoke to a Hanoi gathering Dec. 11, urging the country's army to increase its quality and fighting strength, and take an active role in economic affairs. The occasion was the 60th anniversary of the Vietnamese People's Army and the 15th anniversary of the All-People National Defense Day (Dec. 11). (Voiceof Vietnam, BBC Monitoring, Dec. 12).

Doan Viet Hoat in online chat

An online chat with dissident Doan Viet Hoat is currently underway at the Amnesty International website. It began at 4 pm. EST. Click here to view the chat.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Vietnam protests US shrimp tariffs

The Vietnamese foreign ministry has objected to a decision by the U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC) to uphold tarrifs on pond-raised shrimp imported from Vietnam, based on the rationale that the shrimp are being sold at less than fair value in the U.S. The DOC on November 30 made its final tariffs on Vietnam's shrimp exports, ranging between 4.13%-25.76%, compared to 12.11% to 93.13% in its preliminary ruling on June 6 this year. Dusted and battered shrimp from Vietnam are exempt from these duties. The rate is much higher for China shrimp exports, which range from 27.9 percent to 112.8 percent. Other shrimp exporting countries, including Brazil, Ecuador, India and Thailand, are expected to receive similar tariff restrictions.(The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C., Dec. 2; BBC Monitoring International Reports, VNA, Dec. 2; Radio Australia, Dec. 4).

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Human Rights event in Santa Ana

A program to honor Vietnamese dissidents and their supporters will be held in Santa Ana, California on Dec. 12
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, recently refused a visa to visit Vietnam, will give the keynote speech. It will take place from 2-4:45 pm, at Santa Ana Community College, Lecture Hall A-210, 1530 W. 17th Street, Santa Ana, sponsored by the Vietnam Human Rights Network.

Three amnesties for prisoners next year

President Tran Duc Luong plans to grant three reprieves for prisoners in 2005. These will take place on Tet (February), Liberation Day (May 1), and National Day (Sept. 2). The Central Council for Amnesty Consultation's working groups meets with prison managers to consider the files of those inmates who qualify for a reduction in their sentences. (Pioneer Dec 3 p2, The Law Dec 3 p1, Vietnam News Briefs Dec. 3)

61,000 workers exported this year

Vietnam has exported 61,000 workers abroad during the Jan.-Nov. period, most of them going to Taiwan, which received 36,000 Vietnamese; followed by Malaysia with 14,000 workers, South Korea with 4,200 and Japan with 2,000. Overall it is a sharp drop from last year, when 74,000 workers were exported during the same period, but the government hopes to reach 65,000 workers by the end of the year. These figures come from Vietnam's Overseas Labor Management Department under the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs (MoLISA).(Vietnam Economic Times Dec 4 p1, Investment Dec 3 p2, Laborer Dec 2 p11, VNS Dec 1, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 3).

Farm and forestry exports nearly $4 billion this year

Farm and forestry exports from Vietnam have amounted to US$3.962 billion so far this year, according to the latest Vietnam government statistics. Farm products comprise $2.648 billion of this amount, while the remaining $1.314 billion comes from forestry products during the January-November period. Rice is the major farm export, as Vietnam, the second largest exporter in the world, has exported so far this year $862 million from the shipment of 3.716 million tons of rice. It is expected to export 3.9 million tons by the end of the year. Other agricultural exports include coffee, tea, pepper, cashew nuts, and rubber (GSO Oct Edition, Vietnam Panorama, Vietnam News Briefs, Dec. 3).

Friday, December 03, 2004

Protestant congress in Hanoi

As reported by Hanoi's Voice of Vietnam:

"The 32nd Congress of the General Confederation of the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (northern region) opened in Hanoi on Wednesday 1 December , with the participation of 155 delegates representing 6,320 Protestants from 14 northern societies.

"They heard a report on church activities in the past 20 years and plans for the future. They also revised the statute of the Evangelical Church and elected the church's general board for the next term..."

Pastor Vu Quang Huyen addressed the congress, discussing the organization's relations with churches in Germany, Japan and Korea, and its work of repairing cathedrals in northern Vietnam. (Voice of Vietnam, Dec. 2).

National Assembly grills PM Khai in corruption

Prime Minister Pham Van Khai was questioned on corruption and measures for reform by the National Assembly, an unprecedented action by the parliamentary body. Khai acknowledged many serious cases of corruption, and vowed to crack down, but warned that evidence is often hard to come by. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, Dec. 2).

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Congresswoman denied visa to Vietnam

U.S. Congresswomen Loretta Sanchez, a Democrat from Orange County, California, has been denied a visa to Vietnam, apparently because of her outspoken support for human rights in Vietnam and for linking this issue to improved trade relations with Vietnam. In a letter to the American Embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam's National Assembly said Sanchez "altogether lacks objectivity and good will toward Vietnam. The Vietnamese National Assembly and Vietnamese public opinion share the view that a visit to Vietnam by Ms. Loretta Sanchez would not serve Vietnam-U.S. relations." Sanchez, who replaced conservative Republican Bob Dornan in Congress, has made two previous trips to Vietnam, in 1999 and 2000, during which she met with both dissidents and Vietnamese government officials. U.S. ambassador to Vietnam Michael Marine has urged Vietnam to reconsider its refusal. (Orange Country Register article reprinted in Myrtle Beach Online, Dec. 2).

Donors pledge $3.5 billion for 2005

International donors pledged $3.5 billion in aid to Vietnam for 2005, up from $2.8 billion this year, while urging the government to battle graft, raise transparency and speed up legal reform. According to Reuters reporter, Nguyen Nhat Lam, "despite healthy economic expansion of 7 percent a year, Vietnam relies on foreign help to build schools, clinics, roads and power grids." World Bank director in Vietnam Klaus Rohland predicts Vietnam will join the World Trade Organization and complete its transition to a market economy within five years. Vietnam places poverty at 9% of the total population, although by international standards it would be closer to one-third. It ranks 102nd of 146 nations in a 2004 corruption survey conducted by Transparency International. (Reuters, Dec. 2; see also Associated Press/Forbes, Dec. 2; and Dec. 1 and Nov. 23 entries below).

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

"Dega protestantism" denounced

Nguyen Thanh Xuan, deputy head of Vietnam's Committee for Religious Affairs, denounced "dega Protestantism" in an interview with Hanoi's Voice of Vietnam, Nov. 30. Xuan distinguished between "orthodox Protestantism" and "dega Protestantism", describing the former as loyal to the state, and the latter as a source of division and dissent among the Montagnards: "Most dangerously, Protestantism influenced by Dega thought triggers social instability, weakens political security and obstructs social, economic and cultural development in the Central Highlands, causing negative impacts on local inhabitants’ lives because poverty coupling with instability stands in the way of development." According to a recent report of Human Rights Watch, there has been an increased crackdown on independent (non-registered) religious groups living in Vietnam, particularly among ethnic minorities. (Voice of Vietnam, Nov. 30; Human Rights Watch report, Oct. 22).

International donors conference opens in Hanoi

Vietnam asked for increased aid at the opening of the annual Consultative Group meeting in Hanoi. Deputy PM Vu Khoan estimated economic growth at 7.4 percent over the past four years. Aid to Vietnam last year amounted to US$2.8 billion. Donors have pushed for increasing government transparency and reducing corruption in Vietnam. (Associated Press, Dec. 1; see also Nov. 23 entry below).